First there was the automatic transmission – revolutionary in its day. Proud car owners would drive with their left leg out the window to show they didn’t have to use a clutch. Now, with the advent of the Mercedes-Benz F 015, the autonomous vehicle is here. And not only does it not require shifting gears, the research vehicle doesn’t even require a driver. Already over the last couple of years, the company had been experimenting with autonomous driving. In August 2013, the S 500 INTELLIGENT DRIVE research vehicle autonomously navigated through complex traffic situations on a trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim, Germany – the same roughly 100-kilometre journey that Bertha Benz, the wife of Carl Benz, accomplished in 1888 to demonstrate the revolutionary capabilities of the horseless coach known as the Benz Patent Motor Car.
And since 2014, Mercedes-Benz researchers have been conducting tests on the streets and highways of California with E-Class and S-Class models outfitted for autonomous driving. Now though, the F 015 – with its space-age aluminium, steel and carbon-fibre exterior – points the way to a forthcoming era, possibly as early as 2030, when passengers will view car travel as a time to relax and re-energize while, as one reviewer put it, “an autopilot who never tires” takes care of the driving. The F 015 was on display at this year’s Consumer Electronics Shows in Las Vegas and Shanghai, and the convergence of automotive and information technology it uses to achieve autonomous driving “will change our society,” says Mercedes-Benz Chairman Dr. Dieter Zetsche. “The car is growing beyond its role as a mere means of transport and will ultimately become a mobile living space.”